Trauma Bonding & the Narcissist – Nobody Does it Better!

emotional-rollar-coasterFeeling attached to a narcissist or sociopath even though he treats us badly is a constant source of angst for those in recovery from toxic relationships. Victims want to know why…why can’t I just let go of this guy? Why can’t I move on? Why am I obsessed with no closure? Why do I feel so connected to someone who feels no connection to me? One logical answer to this is that we’re normal and they’re not and normal people want to fix things that are broken so that they work again.

The problem, of course, is that a narcissist can’t be fixed because he was never right to begin with. In essence, the narcissist isn’t really broken at all. He simply is what he is and what he is is no good. This being true, what do we do, after a Discard, when we can’t shake the feeling of being only ½ a person without him…of feeling utterly attached even when we’re apart and even when he’s with someone else? Why can’t we disconnect from the Bad Man? Well, there is an answer to this for those who seek a deeper psychological reason for the suffering and it’s a condition often referred to as trauma bonding.

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When we think of trauma bonding, we typically associate it with The Stockholm Syndrome (TSS) – a condition named after a real-life situation where a group of hostages became emotionally attached to their kidnapers. TSS, however, although certainly similar to trauma bonding, typically occurs in life-threatening situations where the victim is literally in fear of dying at the hands of her toxic, abusive partner. Trauma bonding is more descriptive of the attachment dilemma that occurs from the type of trauma caused to our emotions (i.e. betrayal and neglect, over and over and over). It’s the type of bonding that can easily occur via passive-aggressive manipulation (i.e. sex, lies, silent treatments) and other forms of narcissistic control.

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The narcissist partner, as cunning as he or she is, understands the process for streamlining a victim’s codependency to point of least resistance. He has actually figured out – without a single day of formal training – that the best way to ensure narcissistic supply is to create trauma bonds with his targets via the method of “seduce and discard”.  He has figured out an easy way to turn us into a narcissist’s enabler.

The conditioning that leads to trauma bonding focuses on two powerful sources of reinforcement recurring in succession over and over and at perfectly timed intervals. Psychologists call this reinforcement the ‘arousal-jag’ which actually refers to the excitement before the trauma (arousal) and the peace of surrender afterwards (jag). Take a second to reflect on the narcissist’s behaviors. Creating trauma bonds is what he’s been doing his whole life!

‘Arousal-jag’ reinforcement is all about giving a little and then taking it away over and over and over in well timed intervals. Narcissists do this all the time (disappearing/reappearing, silence/chaos) whereby creating an illusion of twisted excitement that reinforces the traumatic bond between us and them. And to be clear, the narcissist feels a connection here as well only his connection is to the excitement alone and not to us. This is why a narcissist always has multiple partners because it doubles and triples his excitement factor. The fact that we – as his victims – become so attached to the chaos that we’ll eagerly await a hoover is quite an added bonus!

Are you getting it yet??

The excitement before the trauma (of betrayal and neglect) is created during the devalue stage…that point in time right before a discard when our intuition has already told us he’s going to leave based on his behaviors. It’s that knot-in-the-stomach feeling, the overwhelming urge to call his phone 100 times, the torment of cognitive dissonance…. it’s the hours spent scouring the internet looking for clues…it’s the feeling we get from the chaos that a narcissist ALWAYS creates right before the silence. Like it or not, we become highly addicted to his narcissistic behaviors and all of the nonsense that goes with it… and we miss it like a motherfucker when it’s gone…when, suddenly, the narcissist goes silent. We long for the connection – as manipulated and fabricated as it is – until we can barely breathe. Then, right before we either kill ourselves or come to our senses, in swoops the narcissist once again – like a Phoenix rising – to give us the second reinforcement: the peace of surrender that happens afterwards. His reappearance is meticulously timed for maximum effect and usually follows a silent treatment that has lasted just a tad longer than the one before. The narcissist is conditioning us to accept less and less so he can get away with more each time he vanishes.

Either way, this second dose of reinforcement – the peace of surrender – is absolutely heaven! Again, it’s an addiction – to the narcissist and the make-up sex, to the vanishing of our anxiety, and to the feeling of calmness and euphoria we get from knowing that, once again, we’ve been given a reprieve to breathe until the cycle repeats again. Seduce and discard…seduce and discard…till the end of all fucking time. And, at the moment it’s happening, we’re actually okay with that! In fact, there’s no place in the world we’d rather be.

As I am writing this, I am realizing that my ex worked very, very hard at trauma bonding. In fact, he was a Master at it, subjecting me to silent treatments (two weeks on/two weeks off) like clockwork, for months at a time, and with no explanation at all. In addition, from mid-October to mid-January every year for 13 years he made like Houdini and fell completely off the grid.  And right before leaving, he’d ramp up the chaos, making me feel horribly anxious and angry yet desperate for his attention. But I was addicted to it and he knew it.  Wayne knew exactly what he was doing!

Our addiction to the narcissistic chaos and then to the reprieve also explains why we find it so hard to maintain No Contact and/or to move on into new relationships after it’s over. No one excites us in quite the same way or with the same intensity as a toxic partner. Via trauma bonding, we become the suffering and the suffering becomes us. We forget what normalcy feels like. We stop differentiating between good excitement and bad excitement. The chaos and turmoil becomes almost as big a turn-on for us as it does for the N.

If we look back on or inward on (if we’re still in it) our relationship, we see that at the moment the Idolize Phase ends, the trauma bonding began. We may not have even known this but you can be sure that the narcissist did. As time passed and the narcissistic partner became more successful at managing down our expectations of the relationship, our connection to the nonsense began to stick like super glue. But now that we know it….that there is a name for that strange hold this bizarre person had over us..we can make sure it never happens to us again. If we’re still in the relationship, then we can get out (and fast!) because, unlike a hostage victim who trauma bonds with a kidnapper, we are NOT being held at gunpoint and we CAN escape. Let us be grateful for that fact and do what we need to do to save our sanity.

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119 Comments

  • Gail

    January 19, 2017 at 8:02 am Reply

    Hello Again.
    I have not been here in awhile. During my absence I have found myself slowly yet continuously improving.
    I have read the book When Love is a Lie.
    Great knowledge of what really happened in my life. I felt many emotions as I read. I also let go of some emotional baggage.
    I am now reading and working through my second book: Stop Spinning, Start Breathing.
    I now can get through a day without being stuck still waiting for him.
    Still waiting and searching for answers I have come to realize I could search til the end of time and still would not find a reason nor why.
    I have accepted that.
    I’m so very grateful for your site and your support.
    I have searched many sites since finding this one to gain as much complete understanding of the subject as possible.
    I did not find another with the upfront informational resources and group support as there is here.
    One thing stand deeply in my mind.( Well actually many things) but in particular this:
    I read on many sites that we need to accept and accept how WE!! Have enabled ourselves to fall a victim of circumstances because of behavioral issues we need help finding change with. I cannot find the “professional term” used but my point is.:
    There is NOT no way in HELL will I ever accept that I allowed such a thing to happen in my life. Never would I enable such a horrible person to behave in an inhumane such as that bastard’s behavioral issues.
    Accept that you survived. Accept that the jail time and more personal loss is not worth it.
    Accept that you will learn to live life instead of exist in it.
    Take that deep breath and accept your well deserved freedom.
    Thank you God bless

  • Gail

    December 29, 2016 at 3:29 am Reply

    Hello again,
    I again apologize for my outburst earlier today.
    I started feeling overwhelmed with mixed emotions & I emotionally broke down. Laying in my room had a long cry, and processing my thoughts. I wrote in my personal book I have for writing anything I feel, as I feel it. That slows my thought process level back to rational thinking. There were old memories flashing back with new realizations,
    I felt anxiety and hurt just like as if he were right in front of me saying all his ugly hateful bullshit ,yelling at me with that stupid look on his face when I wrote earlier today.
    Reading the book focusing on what I was reading. I started visualizing what I was reading and I became angry,disgustd and shock of what I was realizing . If I had had this knowledge I now have when I was there. I truly feel I might have had a different mindset.
    I don’t really know for sure I stayed for a lot of abuse! Physical,sexual, and emotional.
    One thing I mentioned in one of my post about TSS I felt a relation to.
    You see I knew him through a friend for many years prior in Dallas. He came to visit that fried in 2012 in Corpus Christi.
    We all got together and had dinner &drinks.
    He kissed me out of nowhere an f one thing led to another. The next day all was well, still friends had a good time.
    That day he invited me to go visit him where he lived. I thought why not we’ve been friends forever. Both single. So we set it for the next weekend. He left the next day.
    I was excited the whole week because I was being me!
    Who “me” was then was another woman who’s dead. I was the most independent, self confidence, in control of my happy life woman.
    I was always a strong minded person who people commented on my unique personality.
    My daughter’s thought I was a Goddesses because I was always strong and held us together through an ugly divorce. I believed in myself ,I was compassionate and real as real gets .That’s who I was when I took the bus for the weekend to see him.2hrs away.
    Friday was great we had so much fun continuing through Saturday. Two amazing days of being catered to, receiving passionate amazing sex, and what I thought to be a friendship with possible casual encounters in the future. Then Sunday! Standing there by the door my bag next to the floor, waiting for him to take me to the bus station. He walked towards the me leaned in to kiss me as if to say goodbye. Instead he picked up the bag and told me I would not be going to the bus,I wasn’t going back home to the family and friends I loved. I was going to stay with him he said, I laughed it of. “No you belong to me now” you’re staying here! He said taking my bag and taking me by the arm into the room as I cried,
    Unbelievably pleading for an explanation. He took my clothes off & the 1st of many sexual encounters I would be serving “my man” as he put it. It took him 3 months to make me believe that. By then I just went with as a means of survival. I was tierd of trying to understand, how you just take someone out of the world & make them your property.
    My story is already too long so to get shorter…
    He did some very amazing thing’s and some very astonishing thing’s over the next 3 years I learned to love my man and whatever he wanted of me I did…..I loved him

    • Gail

      December 29, 2016 at 3:40 am Reply

      I don’t mean to keep venting here. But no one else knows what you know. Nobody listens anymore.
      Anyway I wanted to let you know I read your book today. Thank you so much it was great.
      I see a lot of thing’s I did not before.
      I also realize I believe I’ll get better, never recover completely, but better.
      I realized somethings I do need changes.
      An it’s me who need the No Contact rule.
      I have a lot of changing to do.
      Thank you again
      Gail

      • Ramone

        December 29, 2016 at 1:05 pm Reply

        Hey Gail,

        I come to this site often, just to reaffirm what I’ve learned and to find strength. It’s been a rough time lately, so I’ve been reading and re-reading a lot! So I just wanted to let you know that it may feel like no one is listening, but you’re not alone. There’s a bunch of us putting up a good fight to get away from our Narcs. Hang in there! Some days are gonna suck, and some days will be better. You might make mistakes, sometimes we give in because we do still love so much, and we get shit on again and it hurts even more, but keep standing up, keep dusting yourself off, keep coming back and reading this stuff! Zari has done a world of good for me! I didn’t understand half of what was going on before, but now I feel like I have at least some control over what I’m doing… you will too, I’m sure of it!

        Ramone

        • Gail

          December 29, 2016 at 8:51 pm Reply

          Hello Ramon,
          Thank you for your encouragement. I plan to do my very best to stay here and move on.
          Until I stumbled upon this site by Googling Why do I still love my abuser?
          I was clueless to what a Narcissist even was. I saw something about going back to your abuse started reading the article, and it blew my mind.
          The more I read the more I felt an intense feeling of disbelief and anxiety go through my body.
          It was as if I had wrote the stories about my life with him myself.
          I sat there the whole day into night reading everything I could read. I could not believe this. I was so numb and hurt to know this is what my relationship truly was.
          He never loved me! That made me go blank. he pushed so hard to teach me love, to open up, and seemed so desperate to be love.
          it was me who wanted nothing to do with love at all. So that was a shock.
          I am truly happy I did come here it has brought new light into the thinking I have always had.
          I feel many different emotions, some new and some from the past creeping back.
          Knowing that this site is here and that there are people here who know, they know what I’m talking about the feel the pain so unbearable at times
          I have exhausted all my outlets of listeners nobody want to hear about it anymore. They think I’m crazy and tell me its dumb to feel the way I do because of the way he was.
          anymore it not how HE was it’s about how I am
          I am again happy to be here and am happy to meet you.
          I hope you also get through your situation finding comfort and hopeful.
          thank you for your reply.
          Gail.

  • Angela

    December 28, 2016 at 4:40 am Reply

    I’m experiencinformation this now I think..
    I have written to you before.. during D&D not only did I go back but the treatment got worse and he physically attracted me when I’d finally decided to try set some boundaries. Fractured my jaw, displaced my two fronthings teeth and split my lip in two which required 12 stitches.
    My mum reported this to the police and he is currently on bail ( he doesn’t know I’ve made a statement as I originally wouldn’t give one until the hoovering started up again and I realised he was in was never going to be free to live my life. I wouldn’t mind he’s hoovering me whilst living with his pregnant ex!
    This article has some what made it clear to me why I’m wracked with so much guilt, he has tried to ruin me mentally, financially and physically yet when the text messages came it took every bit of will power I possess to not reply and pass them on to the police.
    7 days and his bail ends and the police will remand him. I’m in counselling to get pass the guilt I feel when logically I’ve done nothing wrong.
    God give me strength and to all those dealing with these evil beings xx

    • Zari Ballard

      January 3, 2017 at 2:42 am Reply

      Hi Angela,

      My hope is that police come and get him and put him away. Yes, you are trauma bonded to be sure but now it’s a new year and you’ve got to think about your future. In the blink of an eye, another year will go by and then another and then another. Get a restraining order, move in with your mum if you haven’t already, get a gun or some way to defend yourself…DO NOT TAKE HIM BACK. At some point, it has to end. Who cares about guilt! What are you possibly feeling guilty about??? You have to know better and I’m sure that you do. No doubt he is a manipulator. How is he out on bail…is it pending a trial? It appears as if you may be the one who has to disappear so that he CAN NOT hoover you…lose his number and BLOCK him. If you don’t, girl, he will abuse you until he kills you.

      Please let me know how you are doing, my sister. I’m here to support you no matter what:)

      Zari xoxo

  • Gail

    December 26, 2016 at 11:26 pm Reply

    Hello,
    And thank you so much. I spent my entire day reading this site. Beginning 8:30a.m.-11:39p.m..
    Clicking on the site has been one of the best thing’s that happened in 2 years.
    As I read everything here, my mind visualized my lifes past 5 years. I was there reliving moments, I could see his face,expressions, hear his words,& feel the tension as I did then.
    All the post from others,& reading relatable to living this hell I became emotional and excited for the 1st time in 5 years I finally had some answers to my WHYs.
    The heaviness in my heart, felt slightly less now that I had some understanding of the hell I lived in. I believed that I wouldn’t ever know what living in this hell was about or why.
    I would take this hollow soul to my grave.
    Now I have slight hope that it’s possible I might find a little more peace from the help here.
    I do not feel I will ever be able to find complete healing anywhere. I went through some very traumatic situations that go beyond defining abuse.Emotional and physical and then some.
    Day after day I live through it even now that he’s been gone 2 years. The daily fight within my heart and mind tear my world apart.
    I do not live, I only exist.
    I never knew any of this such type of abuse or person had an actual definition, a knowledge of, and real explanation of reasoning for something so awful.
    Amazing, truly amazing is all I can say right now.
    I understand now thing’s no one should ever have to try and understand.
    But I thank God for bringing this site up when I Googled “why I still love my abuser”.
    Just another one of my questions of many I have been seeking an answer to through the years.
    I look forward to reading eveyone last word here. I pray I find more hope and answers I once never had.
    Thank you again so very much.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 27, 2016 at 2:20 pm Reply

      Hi Gail,

      Thank you for sharing and I am SO GRATEFUL that you found my site helpful. The same thing happened to me years ago when I discovered LoveFraud.com. I would think about reading on the site every minute that I was away from it. I felt just like you do. I saw myself and my narcissist in every post. This discovery gives us our “a-ha” moment, doesn’t it? It suddenly, and in the blink of an eye, gives us a place to belong.

      You don’t have to “just exist”, my sister. There is light at the end of this tunnel and you can – and will – make it to the other side. I have just now sent you a PDF copy of my book, When Love Is a Lie, to the email that you used to post your message. Please look for it. If you don’t see it, check your SPAM folder because sometimes Gmail will do that to a Yahoo email. Hang in there, girl. We are all here to support you….

      Zari xo

      • Gail

        December 27, 2016 at 8:56 pm Reply

        Hello Zari,
        I can not thank you enough for your kindness and for helping me.
        I do not have words to express the feelings of my gratitude for you, my hopes,and the sense of understanding I have come to find here.
        Finally! Finally! I have some understanding and the answers to some of the “WHY’S ” I have desperately asked everyday since I met him, and after leaving asking WHY? became an overbearing obsession. I was miserably destroyed in the extreme chaos I put myself through trying to find answers.
        I have sent him hundreds of emails, I was sending them daily multiple times a day.
        I would text,call, I begged, I pleaded. I begged God.
        I just wanted to die literally, because I was so consumed by this.
        Tbh. I still am but not to the extreme I was.
        I am still stuck because I am still waiting for him. I do not feel I can be out in a social world, and impossible the thought of any communication from another man.
        I do not feel I will ever be acceptable for feelings of intimacy,love,or even happiness between a man & a woman.
        I can say honestly though reading thsee articles have as I said ,made me feel a little bit more like I will find a clearer view in my thoughts and thinking.
        I admit I sat a few hours in disbelief and it hurt to realize that none of it was ever true.
        He didn’t love me. It was all not even real. I don’t understand why someone would be so cruel. I never did anything ever to deserve this. Oh God, why??
        But while yes it hurts, by now understanding what a narcissist is through reading information about it, I feel like I’m not all the blame anymore. That insight is a good feeling. Now that the initial shock has passed.
        I am going to strive with everything I have to get to that light you tell me of.
        I do exactly what you said you did with the site you found. I wake up and come here I go to sleep from here. This site has become like a daily must have.
        I am so eager to find that light.
        I thank you so much for the book,the hope and for being there.
        Thank you
        Gail

      • Gail

        December 28, 2016 at 10:42 am Reply

        Oh wow..I am really sorry to just randomly post comments that maybe..Fuk I don’t know.
        I am to page 40 of your book and I can’t stop crying. I cannot believe this.
        It’s all so horrible true.. Omg monsters do not even come close to describing these creatures. I don’t even know wtf to call them. Heartless evil mother fuckers.
        I am destroyedto my very core of existence from him.
        I am soooo undesirable right now, I am trying to focus more.
        I feel kinda stupid right now posting this text. I just felt a strong need to talk to someone who knows. And that is definitely you. I thank you so much for your help for knowledge. Knowing exactly what is going on.
        I ll be honest I wish maybe I didn’t know right now. I don’t understand what just happened.
        I hope you will write me back soon. I would love to call you but I have been seriously living in my room for two years on what that bastard didnt consume of my income which would be nothing. My daughter actually struggles to pay the rent because I’m not a person and won’t go outside much less into the world. WORK!? I haven’t worked, I don’t even have human contact.
        I just miserably exsist. And pretend someday I’ll be that amazing woman I once was.
        Again I’m sorry. I just needed to tell someone something.
        Thanks

  • Gail

    December 23, 2016 at 11:05 am Reply

    I have not left this site since 8:30a.m.. It is like reading the story of my life word for word.
    I feel afraid to know some of the things I went through are actually known of and exist in life for others.
    I can still feel heaviness &fear in my heart right now after reading the Trauma Bonding ” section. To realize I’m the TSS instead of trauma bonding is what I experienced exactly .
    Things came back into my mind like they happened yesterday or I might face something this afternoon. That’s still how fresh it feels to me even after 2 years.
    WTF could be more stupid than the idea of going back!?
    I do not understand so much, I have a million “WHY’S ” I have fear I may never find my way out of what ever I have become trapped in.
    An addiction I’ve read,I would rather be drug addicted daily than to feel this gut wrenching fukd up feeling I suffer constantly.
    I’m sorry I just needed to vent.
    I need to tell someone my story, I think.
    I’m scared but I’m going to try to continue to learn to get better.

    • Zari Ballard

      December 26, 2016 at 7:57 pm Reply

      Hi Gail, hang in there and know that it gets better. It helps to talk about so please consider booking some talk time while its at a discount. You’d be AMAZED how a simple conversation with someone who “gets it” can change your perspective of the relationship. You do have the power to get better…always remember that:)

      Zari xo

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